‘Puppetry not a dying art, it retains its relevance’

Its entertainment value can be utilised deftly without compromising art form of puppetry.

Puppetry is still alive and the interest in the art has not dwindled. Given the right support and status as other performing arts, puppet theatre has the potential to nudge itself with their “elite” cousins to be a popular entertainment form. This was the quintessential point made at the four-day Dhaatu International Puppet Festival organised in Bengaluru from January1 to 4, 2016.

That the art is struggling but not losing its traditional elan was proved from the engaging display of different styles and forms of puppetry like Shadow Puppet, Rod Puppet and String Puppet. Seldom would the puppet lovers have been treated to such a feast of art and entertainment as at the Dhaatu International Puppet Festival.

The festival also sought to dispel the belief that puppetry was a dying art. That it suffers from ills of lack of patronage and resources was evident from panel discussions, but there was widespread optimism that the art can be revived.

Ms Anupama Hoskere, Director, Dhaatu and its founder along with her husband Mr VIdyashankar Hoskere, exuded all confidence that the art will get a fresh fillip from the Bengaluru Festival, only the second edition after its debut last year. A master puppeteer herself, Ms Anupama is also a Bharata Natyam artiste and feels the rich treasure of Bharata Shastra will also help puppetry sustain its traditional art form.

In an interview to Karnataka Today, Ms Hoskere, an engineering graduate and with a teaching experience in puppetry in Europe, shared her views on the festival and the status of puppetry in the country.

Excerpts from the interview:

Could you briefly give the highlights of the Festival and what message it has for Dhaatu?

An unprecedented turnout of spectators was a testimony to the fact that puppetry can become a mainstream entertainment. It was heartening to see the curiosity and the knowledge of the audience and their interesting questions reflected a concern for keeping alive the art she said. Of course, it needs to be provided a strong support in terms of education and training and documentation to enhance the interest and opportunities for practitioners of puppetry. The festival also proved puppetry could be organised on a grand scale, otherwise confined to the rural corners of the country.

How did the idea of an international festival come to you?

The idea of an international festival was seeded during my visits to Europe and China. After my regular interactions with young enthusiasts of Indian puppetry and writers on the subject I gained confidence that it could be propagated by providing unified platform for display of wide range of styles and forms. A teaching stint in France and Belgium further fortified my belief that Indian puppetry as an art form has not lost its popularity. Later, participation in a festival in China, where Dhaatu showcased Indian puppetry among 19 countries boosted the confidence as our art drew wide appreciation. This assurance inspired me to plan a national festival in 2011-12 to provide a platform to puppeteers languishing in the corners of the villages in Karnataka, considered the home of the traditional art of puppetry. It had a rich variety of styles and forms of styles and form of puppetry in the region. However, it was my passion and relentless research into puppetry and my intense interactions with writers like Claudia Ornstein, an acclaimed author on Indian puppetry that strengthened my confidence to hold an international festival.

Is Indian puppetry a dying art? 

No. It is not a dying art. The art retains its relevance. But it is the reducing number of practitioners and the consequent effect of waning interest of people in the puppet theatre that gives the impression that puppetry is dying. Actually it is not. The patronage it enjoyed before, say during the royalties of Tanjore and Mysore, is no longer available. Besides, the high cost of dolls (puppets), lack of education and training among the traditional puppeteers add to the woes of the puppet theatre.

The Puppet Festival 2016 gave the impression that traditional puppetry has tremendous potential to become a means of entertainment and education.

Yes. The vibrant shows given by troupes from various states of India, especially from Andhra Pradesh and Varanasi and Karnataka (both staged shows from Ramayana) prove the point. Audience also resonated with the thrilling display of the art - the troupe from Andhra showing the Hanuman somersaulting to add novelty and the creation of “Jumman Chacha”, the sutradhar (story-teller) introducing story of Tulsi Ramayana ably enacted by the Varanasi troupe. And the scene of Kannagi setting Madurai on fire to avenge the death of her husband Kovalan added some drama but the play like the other two shows retained the essence of the stories exuding with entertainment and educational values.

‘Puppetry not a dying art, it retains its relevance’-1

Can puppetry be able to resist the pulls of commercialism, compromising to making it a tool for entertainment?

As I said the essential elements of art of puppet art cannot be diluted, ie.its form and structure (story), but its entertainment value can be utilised deftly without compromising art form of puppetry. All other performing arts can have improvisations to make a glamorous presentation, but puppetry leaves little scope because of its story structure and form.

‘Puppetry not a dying art, it retains its relevance’-2

Could you briefly share Dhaatu’s plans to enhance the awareness about puppeteering and making it a popular art form?

Dhaatu has been engaged in the revival and propagation of puppetry by holding local and regional puppet shows. The international festival has given it an added impetus to puppetry by providing a common platform to puppeteers from different countries with different styles and heritage. To create interest among younger generation, this year a competition was held for students of architecture to design carnival puppets that will be taken in the Puppet Parade, a feature of the festival to showcase different forms of puppets. Regular puppet shows are held in Bengaluru along with puppet training workshops for children to inculcate expertise in the design and conducting puppet shows.

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